World War I service
Each Mle 1897 75 mm field gun battery (4 guns) was manned by highly trained crews of 170 men led by 4 officers recruited among graduates of engineering schools. Enlisted men from the countryside took care of the 6 horses that pulled each gun and its first limber. Another 6 horses pulled each additional limber and caisson which were assigned to each gun. A battery included 160 horses, most of them pulling ammunition as well as repair and supply caissons.
The French artillery entered the war in August 1914 with more than 4,000 Mle 1897 75 mm field guns (1,000 batteries of 4 guns each). Over 17,500 Mle 1897 75 mm field guns were produced during World War I, over and above the 4,100 French 75s which were already deployed by the French Army in August 1914. All the essential parts, including the gun's barrel and the oleo-pneumatic recoil mechanisms were manufactured by French State arsenals: Puteaux, Bourges, Châtellerault and St Etienne. A truck-mounted anti-aircraft version of the French 75 was assembled by the automobile firm of De Dion-Bouton and adopted in 1913.
The total production of 75 mm shells during World War I exceeded 200 million rounds, mostly by private industry. In order to increase shell production from 20,000 rounds per day to 100,000 in 1915, the government turned to civilian contractors, and, as a result, shell quality deteriorated. This led to an epidemic of burst barrels which afflicted 75 mm artillery during 1915. Colonel Sainte-Claire Deville corrected the problem, which was due to microfissures in the bases of the shells, due to shortcuts in manufacturing. Shell quality was restored by September 1915, but never to the full exacting standards of pre-war manufacture.
The French 75 gave its best performances during the Battle of the Marne in August–September 1914 and at Verdun in 1916. At the time the contribution of 75 mm artillery to these military successes, and thus to the French victories that ensued, was seen as significant. In the case of Verdun, over 1,000 French 75s (250 batteries) were constantly in action, night and day, on the battlefield during a period of nearly nine months. The total consumption of 75 mm shells at Verdun during the period February 21 to September 30, 1916, is documented by the public record at the Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre to have been in excess of 16 million rounds, or nearly 70% of all shells fired by French artillery during that battle. The French 75 was a devastating anti-personnel weapon against waves of infantry attacking in the open, as at the Marne and Verdun. However its shells were comparatively light and lacked the power to obliterate trench works, concrete bunkers and deeply buried shelters. Thus, with time, the French 75 batteries became routinely used to cut corridors with high-explosive shells, across the belts of German barbed wire. After 1916, the 75 batteries became the carriers of choice to deliver toxic gas shells, including mustard gas and phosgene.
The French Army had to wait until early 1917 to receive in numbers fast firing heavy artillery equipped with hydraulic recoil brakes (e.g. the 155 mm Schneider howitzer and the long-range Canon de 155mm GPF). In the meantime it had to do with a total of about four thousand de Bange 90 mm, 120 mm and 155 mm field and converted fortress guns, all without recoil brakes, that were effective but inferior in rate of fire to the more modern German heavy artillery. The excessive reliance on the 75 mm field gun, a doctrine developed by the General Staff during the pre-war years, cost hundreds of thousands of French lives that were lost during the unsuccessful Joffre offensives (Artois/Champagne) in 1915.
World War II service
Canon de 75 modèle 1897 modifié 1938-1940 (anti-tank modification with pneumatic wheels) used at the Battle of Bir Hakeim by the Free French Forces, Musée de l'Armée
Despite obsolescence brought on by new developments in artillery design, large numbers of 75s were still in use in 1939 (4,500 in the French army alone), and they eventually found their way into a number of unlikely places. A substantial number had been delivered to Poland in 1919–1920, together with infantry ordnance, in order to fight in the Polish-Soviet War. They were known as 75mm armata wz.1897. In 1939 the Polish army had 1,374 of these guns, making it by far the most numerous artillery piece in Polish service.
Some French guns were modernized between the wars, in part to adapt them for anti-tank fire, resulting in the Canon de 75 Mle 1897/33 which fired a high-explosive anti-tank shell. Many were captured by Germany during the Fall of France in 1940, in addition to Polish guns captured in 1939. Over 600, renamed 7.5 cm Pak 97/38, were mounted on a 5 cm Pak 38 carriage and put to use by the Wehrmacht in 1942 as an emergency weapon against the Soviet Union's T-34 and KV tanks. Its relatively low velocity and a lack of updated armor-piercing ammunition limited its effectiveness as an anti-tank weapon. When the German 7.5 cm Pak 40 became available in sufficient numbers, most remaining Pak 97/38 pieces were returned to occupied France to reinforce the Atlantic Wall defenses. The remainder were used as second-line and coastal artillery pieces under the German designation 7.5 cm FK 231(f).
In 1915 Britain acquired a number of "autocanon de 75 mm mle 1913" anti-aircraft guns, as a stopgap measure while it developed its own anti-aircraft alternatives. They were used in the defence of Britain, usually mounted on de Dion motor lorries using the French mounting which the British referred to as the "Breech Trunnion". Britain also purchased a number of the standard 75 mm guns and adapted them for AA use using a Coventry Ordnance Works mounting, the "Centre Trunnion". At the Armistice there were 29 guns in service in Britain.
In June 1940, with many British field guns lost in the Battle of France, 895 M1897 field guns and a million rounds of ammunition were purchased from the US Army. For political purposes, the sale to the British Purchasing Commission was made through the US Steel Corporation. The basic, unmodified gun was known in British service as "Ordnance, QF, 75mm Mk 1", although many of the guns were issued to units on converted or updated mountings. They were operated by field artillery and anti-tank units. Some of the guns had their wheels and part of their carriages cut away so that they could be mounted on a pedestal called a "Mounting, 75mm Mk 1". These weapons were employed as light coastal artillery and were not declared obsolete until March 1945.
During World War II, the British also received the American half-track M3 Gun Motor Carriage under Lend Lease terms and used these in Italy and Northern Europe until the end of the war as fire support vehicles in Armored Car Regiments.
The US Army adopted the French 75 mm field gun during World War I and used it extensively in battle. The US designation of the basic weapon was 75 mm Gun M1897. There were 480 American 75 mm field gun batteries (over 1,900 guns) on the battlefields of France in November 1918. Manufacture of the French 75 by American industry began in the spring of 1918 and quickly built up to an accelerated pace. Carriages were built by Willys-Overland, the hydro-pneumatic recuperators by Singer Manufacturing Company and Rock Island Arsenal, the cannon itself by Symington-Anderson and Wisconsin Gun Company. American industry built 1,050 French 75s during World War I, but only 143 had been shipped to France by 11 November 1918; most American batteries used French-built 75s in action.
The first US artillery shots in action in World War I were fired by Battery C, 6th Field Artillery on October 23, 1917 with a French 75 named "Bridget" which is preserved today at the United States Army Ordnance Museum. During his service with the American Expeditionary Force, Captain (and future U.S. President) Harry S. Truman commanded a battery of French 75s.
During the 1930s most M1897A2 (French made) and M1897A4 (American made) guns were mounted on the modern carriage M2A3 which featured a split trail, rubber tires allowing towing at any speed, elevation limit increased to +45 degrees and traverse increased to 30 degrees left and right. Along with new ammunition, these features increased the effective range and allowed the gun to be used as an anti-tank gun, in which form it equipped the first Tank Destroyer battalions.
These were later removed from their towed carriages and installed on the M3 Half-Track as the (M3 GMC) as these guns became surplus with their replacement by the more powerful and more versatile U.S. 105 mm M101 split-trail Howitzer by 1941. M3 GMCs were used in the Pacific theater during the Battle for the Philippines and by Marine Regimental Gun Companies until 1944. The M3 GMC also formed the equipment of the early American Tank Destroyer Battalions during operations in North Africa and Italy and continued in use with the British in Italy and in small numbers in Northern Europe until the end of the war. Many others were used for training until 1942.
The 75mm M2 and M3 tank guns of the M3 and M4 Medium tanks, the 75mm M6 tank gun of the M24 light tank and the 75mm gun of the B-25 Mitchell bomber all used the same ammunition as the M1897. The 75mm Pack Howitzer M1 used the same projectiles fired from a smaller 75x272R case.